Well, the time has finally come; although many were extremely happy to see off the chaos that was 2020, the first of January 2021 was a day of great disappointment for many. It has not been the most amicable of breakups, but it is done, the United Kingdom has now officially left the European Union; no more transitions periods, no take-backs.
It was seen, by a certain proportion of the UK population and some very vocal opinions within the government, as a chance to shake off the “shackles” of bureaucracy and to be free from the Union, but, at what cost? Promises were made… some were kept, and now the future relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe seems a little murky. However, we are still neighbours, and there is still work to be done; which brings us to what we really want to talk about, us, a post-Brexit SciCulture.
All of the SciCulture teams from universities and research institutes across the EU were devastated by the UK’s decision to leave the Union, including our partners from the University of Exeter, UK. Although this may be the end of an era, our Exeter team are still as centrally involved as ever within SciCulture. There may be a few more roadblocks along the way, but we are striving to do everything we can to make the collaboration even more productive – SciCulture is not going anywhere.
As part of the Brexit agreement, the UK will no longer contribute towards new funding streams for Erasmus + student exchange programme, but will honour funding previously awarded to projects like SciCulture. We use grants from Erasmus to, in-part, fund our SciCulture intensive courses, and also to provide financial support to students and academics associated with our SciCulture partners, allowing them to take part in the courses. However, without the continued support of Erasmus, it is unlikely that academics from Exeter University will be able to utilise these particular grant opportunities for new projects in the future. We are therefore looking into alternative funding routes, including a few limited avenues of European funding available to the UK, one of which is the new Horizon Europe scheme, a programme that will succeed the Horizon 2020 scheme. Our UK Principal Investigator, Associate Professor Kerry Chappell, from UoE confirms that “through one or a combination of schemes, we are aiming to collaboratively apply for the funds necessary to continue our work with our European SciCulture colleagues. This way we can ensure that our practice and research into transdisciplinary teaching and learning can continue across boundaries and borders”.
Negotiations between the governments of the United Kingdom and Brussels still need to be finalised, but it has been suggested that the UK may be granted top-tier associate membership, meaning that UK based projects would still be able to apply for funding and coordinate projects with European partners through the scheme. Not wanting to be outdone by the EU, the government of the United Kingdom has also recently announced that it is setting up its own student exchange program, the Turing Scheme, which promises to have a more global reach than its EU counterpart. But this £100-million initiative will only be available to out-going students from the UK, and will not cover inbound students from other countries.
The values and beliefs demonstrated by the Erasmus plus programme closely match those of SciCulture. We believe in the inherent benefits of tearing down walls between disciplines and institutions, and that collaboration allows for a greater degree of big-picture thinking and creative problem solving, as well as providing experience outside of one’s comfort zone, leading to great personal growth. Although the UK’s Turing Scheme does address some of these areas, it is still not adequate for our collaborative purposes. Sending off your own students to experience the world without any reciprocal exchange limits the growth of students who are not lucky enough to be accepted on these programs, and may affect the future standing of research institutes in the global ecosystem of science research. It also seems short-sighted, as there are reports of the UK making a net profit of £243 million a year from those participating in Erasmus. We hope that that the UK recognise the importance of maintaining ties to the rest of Europe, and SciCulture will continue to stand for collaboration and learning across borders and disciplines for years to come.
More good news to come.